Monday, July 29, 2013

Skeleton of the Novel

I recently found an amazing eBook by CJ Lyons that talks about three-act structure. I was skeptical to check it out at first because I have not found many of the writing formulas to be very helpful in the past, but, boy, am I glad I gave this eBook a shot!

I love movies. I watch many of them. I also watch many television programs, mostly fictional, and I am always amazed when something hooks me. It's hard to figure out what really drags me along when I watch something like Downton Abbey, or Lord of the Rings - but it's undeniable that something catches me and gives me the desire to follow the episode or movie through to the end. I never thought it was the structure of the story. I always believed it had something to do with the plot, the setting, or any other myriad of things. But, the structure of the story? That sounds crazy!

But, I started a test outline of a novel using the three act structure the past two days, and I am blown away at how exciting it is to see the structure of a story as I come up with ideas for the plot and characters. It's like seeing the track of a roller coaster before actually zooming down the loops and curves. What I previously believed about fitting into a mold when it comes to story structure, that it would make me feel stuck and rigid - I am glad to say that the exact opposite has happened. Instead I feel like a million opportunities have laid themselves before me. Having a map before diving into a large project is essential for me.

If you have struggled with pacing, building tension, or any other novel-related issues in your own work, check out No Rules, Just Write! by CJ Lyons. It is well worth the time. I feel energized every time I read another section about the three-act structure. Now, for more time working with new obsession!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Conjuring (2013)

This movie is terrifying! I expected no less from director James Wan of Insidious and Saw fame. Based on the real cases investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring begins by introducing one of the most menacing characters to be put on film in the past decade.

A doll, cracked, dressed in a dirty outfit, and always staring with wide eyes and a mischievous smile, is turned in to Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (the fantastic Vera Farmiga) when the three college-age friends believe it to be possessed. In a genius piece of screenwriting, writers Chad and Carey Hayes lay the groundwork for the rest of the hauntings in the film. As with the Paranormal Activity movies, most of the scares and creatures stalking the Perron family later on are invisible - only seen when the tension has been ratcheted up so much that it feels like the audience is going to die of suffocation. Since what we imagine is more terrifying than what the filmmakers can actually portray on screen, we are given clues as to what the unseen forces in this world - our world, as the text on screen reminds us - look like. As Lorraine explains, these menacing beings are not ghosts at all.

They are demons, animalistic creatures that have never walked this earth in human form. They strive to possess and wreak havoc and death upon everyone with an impressionable mind. They will use objects to get our attention and break us down until we can be completely possessed by them.

Of course, things start out small for Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingson) who have just bought a house in the country by a tranquil river, bringing along their five young daughters with them. This film takes place in the 1970's and Wan makes great use of period costumes and hit singles from the day as he lulls the audience into a false sense of normality. But, when the lights go out, that's when we are treated to the doors moving on their own. Numerous series of three knocks are heard, constantly moving throughout the house, as if leading the Perrons on a wild goose chase when they see that there is "nothing" there and shrug it off.

But, this is horror, and as we all know, there is always something there, lurking in the shadows. I am particularly impressed by Joey King, recently seen this summer in White House Down. She is the first daughter to be terrorized at night after the family discovers a boarded-up cellar beneath the house, complete with cobweb-draped furnishings and an unnerving piano at the foot of the creaky stairs. King is nearly ripped from her bed and, in one of the most convincing pieces of acting I've seen from a young actress in a horror movie, King struggles to find her voice and wake her sister. She points to the dark corner by the open door, exclaiming that there is someone standing there. My hair stood on end as the family walked through the space to inspect what they believed was just an empty corner - but again, this is horror. Things take a turn for the worst as the malevolent spirits in the house delight in being found out.

Hats off to the writers for finding a way to tie together the cliche stories of a haunted country home and the team of renowned paranormal investigators who come to save them. Even though the film is based on actual events, however embellished for entertainment value, the old solution of calling an exorcist has been laughable of late. However, the Hayes create an emotional strand that connects the two families and forces them to work together to drive out the demons haunting their property. Are they successful? I won't spoil it here!

This is absolutely a film to be seen in cinemas. The sound design is unmatched by any recent horror film I've seen, and Joseph Bishara's music is hands down his best contribution to the genre to date. I was completely invested in the story of these two families and the horrors they come up against. There are some very sobering questions posed in this film that gave it weight for me, in that the characters acknowledge good and evil, as well as God and Satan. These topics create a moral dilemma on top of all the supernatural trickery going on and brings about a great moral struggle for the characters as they continue to witness things that shouldn't exist. When I got home later in the early morning, I looked twice whenever I heard an unexplained noise in my sleeping home.

Remember, it's all fun and games until demons are involved.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dream A Little Dream

I have heard this argument many times in the past week, conveniently in the wake of reaching another milestone in my first draft that has been a long time coming: 50,000 words.

A few people have listened to me talking about my plans to eventually publish my first novel independently, and they have all expressed doubt that it will be a success. "That's nice," they say, "but, you aren't exactly getting paid now for writing your book. Don't you have something else that you're doing? What about your career now?"

Of course, I do have two jobs. This is the reality of writing as an unknown. They are not related to writing, but I do show up to them seven days a week. I've done it all my life. During high school and college I wrote relentlessly, filling boxes of paper with my thoughts and ideas. However, I didn't have anything publishable back then, and I was still trying to find my own writing voice. Now that I have that, nothing has really changed in the job department. I am still working to pay the bills and writing in the evenings when I am not overwhelmed by my jobs. If I am generating income to "keep the lights on," why do I still run into the idea that I should also be doing a day job that involves writing? Must those two things be connected when I am just starting out? I wonder if other authors have come across this.

I know this question is not asked to be mean. The people who have asked about what I plan on doing for my "career" are looking out for my well being. But, I just want to tell them - this is what I want to do for my career! I want to write many things, especially fiction. These characters can't stay hidden forever in my mind. With every success story I read, my determination gets stronger. I know I can do it. Whether there are readers out there who would be interested in my particular novel remains to be seen. Still, it was (and is) fun to write as I continue onwards towards the completion of my first draft. With a second draft, I know that the story itself will be stronger. It's like a sketch, being refined until it ends up as the drawing that you see hanging on display.

Everything is possible in this age of digital technology and connectivity through the internet. Planning my publication is a huge responsibility - but for the time being, I simply need to focus on finishing the book and making sure that I balance my creative time with my actual nine-to-five job time. I do know that every time I write it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my chest and I can head home with my head high and a smile on my face.

With that, now time to finish another chapter!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Despite all the books and posts that I've read by writers who claim that the key to writing without inhibition is to just press onwards as if you are the only one who is going to read your work, I am reminded again that a second draft is definitely the place where the messy mock-up of my book will be refined and all the clunky, questionable content is altered or removed altogether.

For an explanation: I must remember that parents will always be parents. No matter what I write, my mother will look at the work through the lens of being my mother. This is a good thing, but it is also a terrifying thing for me as a writer because whenever I give her something to read, I know that some pieces of it may be seen as taboo to her simply because I am her son. I was sneaky and took a peek at some of her notes in my current manuscript and spotted one in a chapter that I knew - even during the moment that I wrote that scene - that she would be stopped at. The scene involves a group of girl friends shopping and trying on clothes. Of course, the topic turns to potential love interests, and I'm sure imaginations can do the rest!

It's a fine line between censoring yourself as a storyteller and making sure that you aren't putting something too vulgar into a work that it will deter your target audience. I'm not completely sure what my target audience will be, but I know that it will definitely be made up of people who enjoy paranormal romances. I suppose there are things you can get away with, and even if someone doesn't like an element you've placed in your narrative - be it a line that someone says, a plot twist, or even a comment on society - it's up to the author of the work to make the final say in what stays and what goes during the second draft. I can't wait to get to that point!

Friday, July 5, 2013

First Nerd Post About Titanic

Okay, so this is the first and certainly not the last time you will hear me talk about the Titanic (the ship, not the movie...though I may geek out on my favorite film sometime in the future!), but today was an exciting day because I caught a new blog post from the team at Four Funnels Entertainment in regards to the development of their massive new game, Titanic: Honor and Glory.

The project is still in the development stage (two of many) but their updates always excite the Titaniac inside me. I've been one since I was in first grade, thanks to a friend now long lost to time, Samuel Whitaker, who mentioned the great tragedy to me while we perused an encyclopedia for some information. Anyway - tangent over. But, this project is definitely worth following if you aren't already doing so. The renders that the team have posted so far are stunning! They even have an early walkthrough of specific areas of the liner on Youtube. Please check them out!

They recently had an Indie-GoGo campaign that was a great success (with all of us donators sitting at the monitor biting our nails). The wait may be long, but I am confident that it will be worth it when the game is finally completed. Four Funnels's motto of historical accuracy is really what gets my mind buzzing with the thirst for knowledge on my favorite ocean liner.

Woot! Now to go and read some of my Titanic books...

First Person, Or Third Person?

This has been the great debate for me lately.

My soon-to-be-completed first novel (post-college, at least) is written in the third person. I decided this would be a good idea because I wanted to utilize a few different points of view, such as seeing the world through the villain's eyes, and also through the two central heroes. However, I have had to constantly remind myself that I need to include some of the thoughts that belong to my characters. They think - so my reader can benefit from what they are pondering at certain moments. This has been coming easier as I've went along, but some good revision will help out the first half of the book, which is already finished a first draft and waiting for the ending to catch up.

I've recently picked up an intriguing YA dystopian novel called Matched, by Ally Condi, and I am really enjoying it so far. I have noticed that there is a trend that most of the YA books - many geared to young girls - follow, and that is to tell the story through a singular first-person POV. This viewpoint is always the central heroine to the story.

Investigating different books with this first person structure makes me itch to try it myself. My previous attempt at a first novel was started in the first person, and then I chickened out and second-guessed myself. That manuscript, part of an eventual series that's been planned since my high-school days, is sitting in my desk drawer right now waiting for me to brush it off and try again. I will eventually, once I finish the work on my current book.

They both have their strong points and stumbling blocks, but still, this seems to be a question I struggle with more and more: First or Third?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Lone Ranger (2013)

It's clear that The Lone Ranger was a passion project on the part of director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp. This film, a revamp of the classic television and radio program, frames the adventures of John Reid - who becomes the masked Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer), and his sidekick-turned-headliner Tonto (Depp), in the middle of two bookend pieces of story between an elderly Tonto, ambiguously employed as part of a Wild Western exhibit at an amusement park, and a young boy dressed in a Lone Ranger costume who is shocked when the figure of Tonto comes to life and begins telling the tale of how he met Reid and convinced him to take up the mask of justice.

I will be honest. I anticipated this movie more than any other this summer. A huge fan of Gore Verbinski and Depp as a team, I salivated over every teaser and theatrical trailer released for this film. Westerns have been a tough sell the past decade, and this film will have a lot of work to do in order to get the audience it deserves. Lone Ranger is a philosophical hero's journey disguised as an action movie. Hammer is wonderful as the astute "learned man," coming back home to see his brother Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), who is married to his old love, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). From there, the train is hijacked and Hammer becomes shackled to Depp, and their journey together begins.

Don't let the action overwhelm you, however. For all the train sequences, with cars becoming derailed with Reid and Tonto flying all over the place, this film also showcases a touching and grounded performance by Depp as an outcast Comanche native. I have a fascination for Native American culture, and Depp brings a sense of loss and inner wound to Tonto - albeit accentuated by his typical character eccentricities. We see that Tonto was tricked as a child into trading his entire village for a cheap pocket watch, and it's that idea of trading that pushes Tonto to trade back vengeance with the villain of the film, a menacing Butch Cavendish (played amazingly by William Fichtner). Of course, there are more villains than just Cavendish in this crowded Western world.

Admittedly this film has a tone that is all over the place at times. I would consider this picture akin to World War Z in that large cuts from the script were made and alterations were done to lower the production budget before shooting could commence. I remember reading that some of the actors took pay cuts just to ensure that this story was told, and their performances show dedication and verve. For those who say that the film lacks heart, I say that they weren't looking in the right places. The heart of the picture is Depp, despite all the nay sayers that wanted the central character from previous tellings, the Lone Ranger himself, to take center stage. As it is, this is not possible with today's audience. It is Tonto's role to convince the Ranger to fight for justice, to pick up the gun he is so opposed to at the beginning of the film, and defend those he loves from not only those who wish to do them physical harm, but also from the greed of those in power who are willing to put entire towns and tribes of people into poverty to fatten their own wallets.

As the film pummeled forward, through set piece after set piece, I had to marvel that such a crucial piece of character in Tonto was the constant to keep the trademark Jerry Bruckheimer action meaningful. Yes, the train sequences and explosions are unrealistic escapism, but the film is trying to revitalize a dead genre in Hollywood. Lone Ranger is also trying to correct one of the great tragedies of American history by giving Tonto the limelight that he deserves after his people had their homes and their lives taken away by the very railroad tycoons that the characters in the film face off against. There are tears in elderly Tonto's eyes, and it was at that moment that I realized it all mattered. With new technology on the side of the white men, Tonto needed the help of the Lone Ranger, someone who could act as a bridge between the disadvantaged natives and the settlers, to fight back and defend a way of life that was being taken away by ruthless men. If the Ranger cared about Tonto's plight, then perhaps other settlers and fortune seekers would as well. Reid was chosen to be Tonto's partner by none other than the white spirit horse, after all. They may not agree one hundred percent, but they both bring unique things to the table that create a whole when fighting as a team. Reid brings his knowledge. On the flip side, Tonto knows how to handle a barrel of explosives. Again, to the nay sayers, I ask: since when did the movies have to be so serious? I'll take some dual train fighting on horseback any day of the week.